Batman: Arkham Origins – The often forgotten prequel


Tiger Media Network

Warning: This article contains some spoilers for the story of “Batman: Arkham Origins”.

“Batman: Arkham City” was a massive critical and commercial success when it released in 2011 and is widely considered one of, if not the best, superhero games of all time, let alone one of the greatest games, period. Because of this, fans were eagerly awaiting the follow-up to that iconic entry, excited to see where their favorite Bat-themed superhero would go next. 

However, while Rocksteady was busy working on the conclusion to the series, “Batman: Arkham Knight,” Warner Bros. themselves soon churned out an entry fans were, at the time, not ready to accept: “Batman: Arkham Origins.” There were a few reasons why “Origins” fared the way it did: High expectations following “Arkham City,” a lack of innovation in the main gameplay, a new studio producing the game, but most of all, it being a prequel when fans wanted to see where the series went next, not where it started. 

However, over time, the reception to “Arkham Origins” has warmed up, and many fans see it as a forgotten gem in the series. Despite this, “Origins” is still completely forgotten by many people, including Warner Bros. and Rocksteady themselves. While both “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City” were both remastered and later bundled with “Arkham Knight” as the “Arkham Collection”, “Arkham Origins” is still stuck on past-gen hardware, with a remaster still highly unlikely. 

That’s a shame because while “Arkham Origins” certainly has its problems, it is still an excellent game and a worthwhile entry in the iconic superhero series. From its absolutely phenomenal story, great performances from the new cast, great atmosphere and the same excellent combat and stealth mechanics, “Batman: Arkham Origins” deserves so much more recognition than it gets and should be held right next to its excellent siblings. 

Release and Additional Info: 

  • Released on October 25th, 2013 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PCs. 
  • Developed by Warner Bros. Montreal, in place of Rocksteady Studios, who were busy working on 2015’s “Batman: Arkham Knight”
  • Written by members of the production company Sekretagent Productions, with DC writer Paul Dini not involved in the game’s story. 
  • A companion game/sequel for the PS Vita, entitled “Arkham Origins: Blackgate”, was released in 2014. 
  • Followed by “Batman: Arkham Knight” in 2015, which served as the conclusion to the original series. 

“Batman: Arkham Origins” takes place eight years before the events of the series, focusing on a younger, less refined Bruce Wayne who is about two years into his career as Batman, aided by his loyal butler Alfred Pennyworth, who at this point, is still coming to terms with Bruce’s vigilante actions. “Origins” follows Batman as he attempts to stop sadistic crime lord Black Mask, who orchestrates a break-in at Blackgate Prison and later places a $50 million bounty on Batman’s head. This bounty causes eight different assassins to try and kill the Dark Knight: Physically enhanced mercenary Deathstroke, the hulking but highly intelligent Bane, the venomous and highly flexible Copperhead, jet-propelled pyromaniac Firefly, mutated brawler Killer Croc, expert marksman Deadshot, deadly martial artist Shiva, and the street tough, electric glove wielding Electrocutioner. As he fights each assassin, Batman also slowly gains the trust of the Gotham City Police Department, and then Captain James Gordon, and has his first encounter with his Arch nemesis the Joker. Other villains include the anarchist Anarky, and younger versions of classic Batman villains Riddler (then known as Enigma) and the Mad Hatter. 

Despite players’ issues with “Arkham Origins,” there is really no denying how amazing the story present here is. Some fans have even gone as far as saying this is the best story in the series. While I think that honor goes to “Arkham City,” I completely understand why some think this way. Seeing a much younger and angrier Batman before he became the seasoned superhero we all know and love is really interesting to see. The reactions of those around him amplify this; Batman is still just an urban legend in “Origins”, and as such, thugs and the police are absolutely horrified at the sight of him. Batman’s relationship with Alfred is another highlight, with the iconic butler taking a much larger role in “Origins.” His initial reluctance to accept his surrogate son’s vigilante crusade is really interesting to watch, and results in a great scene where Alfred confronts Batman as he leaves the cave. By the end of the game, however, Alfred comes to accept that Gotham needs Batman, and it’s a fantastic payoff. Jim Gordon’s relationship with Batman is also great to see develop; Gordon starts off distrusting and downright hating Batman, but eventually grows to respect him. It’s really interesting seeing where Batman’s closest allies started out. 

Kevin Conroy does not voice Batman himself; Instead, he is voiced by Roger Craig Smith, the voice of such characters as Chris Redfield from “Resident Evil” and Sonic the Hedgehog. Even if fans were rightfully skeptical about the new casting, Smith absolutely knocked it out of the park with his performance, perfectly portraying the younger Batman and the anger and aggression he deals with, combined with softer moments of reflection. Another great performance undoubtedly comes from Troy Baker, taking Mark Hamill’s place as the Joker. He expertly captures the mania, glee and twisted sense of humor the Joker has. While I certainly have issues with the Joker’s inclusion (Which I will discuss later), Baker’s performance is certainly not one of them. 

On top of that, the other villains Batman faces are certainly no slouches. Bane is another standout, and “Origins” is really the only game in the series to properly portray Bane’s intelligence alongside his brute strength. He is calculating and methodical on top of being an absolute beast, making it his mission to break the Bat both physically and mentally. Deathstroke is yet another highlight, seeing Batman not as just another bounty, but as a worthy opponent in a fight. Even villains relegated to side missions get their time to shine; Anarky brings up some great points about Batman’s philosophy, even if his own methods of battling corruption do not go too far. Lastly, seeing a younger version of the Riddler squaring off with Batman is a really interesting look into the villain’s earlier days. 

Really, the rest of the game is where much of the contention lies. Considering how “Arkham City” basically perfected the combat, stealth and traversal mechanics from “Arkham Asylum,” expectations for where “Origins” would take the combat were high. However, “Origins” did not expand on the gameplay present in any meaningful way, instead feeling very similar to “City”, and in some cases, can even be seen as a downgrade. First is the open world, and it does pain me to say that “Arkham Origins” has by far the weakest world of the entire series. In comparison to “City” and later “Knight,” “Origins’”’ world just feels empty, with the occasional thug conversation not doing much to fill the world with life. This is also the first game to introduce fast travel, which is a Godsend considering just how time-consuming going from one island to another is, as you have to cross an inhumanly long bridge. Really, the one thing the world has going for it is the atmosphere, thanks to the fact that “Arkham Origins” takes place during Christmas. Seeing Gotham covered in snow and Christmas does give this tranquil and almost comforting feeling, on top of the gritty atmosphere and architecture that comes with Gotham. Despite this, gliding is still fun as ever, and the Riddler trophies, now known as Data Packs, are much less painful to collect than in “City,” mainly because there are less of them (200 instead of 440). All in all, however, the open world here is definitely lacking in some ways. 

Combat and stealth really haven’t changed much since “Arkham City.” That certainly isn’t a bad thing, considering just how great the combat in the game was. That being said, the combat feels noticeably slower and more sluggish compared to its predecessor, although this does feel like a deliberate choice; Batman is still in his early years of crime fighting, so it makes complete sense that he hasn’t fully refined his fighting style yet. Besides, combat is still as fun as ever. The same thing goes for Predator missions, and taking out thugs one by one as Batman, sticking to the shadows and using various parts of the environment feels just as good as before. 

This is helped by some of the new gadgets present, namely the Remote Claw, which allows Batman to tether objects, and even enemies, together, creating some pretty creative takedowns. There are also the shock gloves, which are an insanely broken combat tool that just crumples every enemy in your way. Not all gadgets are created equal; however, “Origins”’ version of the Disruptor, a now classic gadget that is used to jam enemy’s weapon and equipment, is one of the worst gadgets in the entire series. Rocksteady decided it would be a good idea to give the Disruptor a drop off, meaning it loses height when firing at an enemy from a distance. And even if you miss a shot, you still have to wait for it to recharge. It is ridiculously unreliable and is hardly ever worth using. 

Easily the strongest aspect of “Arkham Origins,” however, are the boss battles. “Origins” contains some of the best boss fights, if not the best, in the entire series, which is certainly saying something. Among the eight assassins, a few certainly stand out: Deathstroke is easily the most iconic, requiring skillful use of counters that will definitely put most players to the test. Firefly is another standout and one of my personal favorites, as you fight him on a large bridge he plans to bomb. The way the environment is used in the fight against Firefly is a major reason why it’s so great. Then, there are the fights against Bane, one being a brawl on a snow-covered roof, then another in an underground arena, followed by one of the most tense battles in the series, as you avoid a hulked-out Bane in a small series of corridors. There is also a pretty hilarious “fight” against Electrocutioner, in which, after a major build-up, he gets KOed with a single kick to the face. Once again, those are a few of the boss fight presents, with Copperhead and Killer Croc having some great fights, too. Overall, few can argue just how great the boss fights in this game were. 

Finally, we get to my biggest issue with this game: Its implementation of the Joker. The majority of the “Batman: Arkham” games focus on Batman’s relationship with the Joker, which makes sense given their history. That being said, this often came at the cost of completely sidelining other villains, and “Arkham Origins” is the worst offender of this. From all the marketing released for “Origins,” Black Mask was depicted as being the main villain, which was a great change of pace and could lead to some interesting plot points. However, “Arkham Origins” pulls a major bait and switch, as halfway through the story, it’s revealed Joker had been impersonating Black Mask and was the one who hired the assassins. It’s such a stupid twist that still makes me mad, as the spotlight was taken away from another cool and underrated villain in place of another Batman vs. Joker story. While I still think the narrative is fantastic, and Baker’s Joker is still amazing, I would’ve much preferred to see the focus on Black Mask over Joker.

With all that being said, I still think “Batman: Arkham Origins” is still an underappreciated game that gets way too much hate. The game certainly has issues and falls flat in a few ways compared to its predecessor, but still provides a fantastic superhero experience, complete with the same incredible story, voice acting, and gameplay you’d expect from the “Arkham” series. It’s a genuine shame seeing “Arkham Origins” being as neglected and forgotten as it is, as this game is more than worth your time, and with all its faults, still absolutely deserves its place next to the rest of the “Batman: Arkham” games. 

Nick McCoy is a senior at Fort Hays State University, studying digital media and journalism. An avid gamer and music listener, he reviews video games and songs and hosts the radio show “The Understanding of Nick” for KFHS.